Art students use NEXT exhibit to address political issues

Kim Jong Un

Oil painting of Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, by student Robert Yi.
*Photo courtesy of VOA

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Art students from D.C.’s Corcoran College of Art and Design presented their final art projects at the college museum, on display until May 19, many of which have a politically charged meaning.

The students’ artwork has been compiled into an exhibit called NEXT, the name symbolic of the students who will receive their degrees move on from the undergraduate art program in May.

Robert Yi, a student from South Korea, presented many paintings in the exhibit, including one of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

He explained his intended message to Voice of America:

“My paintings are called Mask paintings. And it’s the idea that, in society today, no matter where you are, people put on a mask,” he said. “That idea is expressed in North Korea because the people of North Korea, the citizens, put on a face…they’re required to act happy.”

Other students targeted different political issues.

Jason Tucker, a fine art photography major, sought to reflect his homosexual identity in his artwork by researching the meaning of derogatory terms for homosexual people.

“I started doing a lot of research into words that have a specific meaning within a gay male context, and so I started with the word ‘faggot,'” he said. “The root of the word comes down to ‘a bundle of sticks.’ So I started with that and wanted to make a self-portrait. So I ended up collecting my exact body weight in sticks…I wanted to take something that I’ve been called before, that was an epithet, and make something beautiful out of it.”

Read more about the D.C. students’ art exhibit here.

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Local D.C. dancer creates Step Afrika! to celebrate many forms of step dancing

*Watch this Step Afrika! promotional dance video

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

D.C. native and Howard University graduate Brian Williams founded Step Afrika!, a cross-cultural dance exchange program in 1994, and now his company travels around the world to promote step tradition dancing.

The D.C. based company is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, April 16 at UNK Health & Sports Center on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. They will be performing locally from June 5-9 at the District’s Atlas Performing Arts Center.

What inspired Williams’ dance crew?

While studying at Howard, he had traveled to South Africa to teach business skills to students. It was there where he stumbled upon a South African dance called the “gumboot dance tradition” created by African mine workers nearly 100 years ago.

Although Williams had learned about step dancing while attending college in Washington, D.C., his curiosity was sparked — he began to research stepping.

When he started Step Afrika!, his company was the only dance group in the world that was dedicated to the tradition of step dancing. He now leads the group of seven dancers, celebrating the Zulu and gumboot dances combined with American stepping.

To read more about step dancing and Step Afrika!, check out the full story here.

The art of destruction: Canadian artist brings provocative gun control piece to the streets of D.C.

Photo by The Washington Post photographer Mike DeBonis.

Photo by The Washington Post photographer Mike DeBonis.

A self-proclaimed walking paradox, artist Viktor Mitic is not afraid to destroy what he creates.

This last week, Mitic hit the streets of D.C., as well as a few local art exhibits, with his piece, entitled “Incident.” The work of art is simple- a small yellow school bus decorated with bullet holes from 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

At first glance, it resembles an unspeakable tragedy, at second glance, a provocative statement that needs to be made.

The “Incident” made its U.S. debut last weekend, as it was placed on the back of a tow truck and driven around downtown Washington, D.C, The Washington Post reported. Many onlookers interviewed by The Post were disturbed by the piece, and some were inquisitive about the artist’s technique.

Regardless of individual reactions, the “Incident” is proof that art is necessary, and is many times the most effective means of grabbing public attention and provoking civic engagement.

Mitic originally created the “Incident” in light of a case of gang violence in his home town of Toronto, but was asked to bring his piece to the U.S. this week to be shown at an art exhibit held at the First Congregational Church of Christ in NW D.C. entitled the “Newton Project: Art Targets Guns.”

The piece made its original debut at the Toronto International Art Fair in September 2012.

The exhibit will last until May 19 and was put together in order to illustrate the need for more restrictive gun laws after the Newtown tragedy, through art. 40 different works of art will be on display at the First Congregational Church of Christ.

Revered Sid Fowler of First Congregational Church of Christ said on the church’s events blog that he believes art can go farther than news reports and legislation.

“Art goes deep into our imaginations and hearts. We can experience what often is difficult to articulate in words.  God can call us, disturb us, and inspire us through the gifts and insights of art. Our hope is that many people will see the images these artists have created and inspire greater public support for effective laws that will restore hope to survivors of violence and to our communities.”

The piece was also on display for three days at George Mason University.  An opening discussion was held Monday and hosted by Helen Frederick, the University’s professor of printmaking in the School of Art. Mitic was invited to lead a discussion with students about the process of “Incident’s” creation, according to GMU’s Newsdesk.

Frederick told GMU’s Newsdeck that she believes Mitic wants to send a vivid message about the issues and dangers of guns in society. She hoped the display of the piece at GMU would not only provoke discussion, but also political awareness for students on campus.

“Mr. Mitic’s artwork provides an important and relevant project for our students, and I am confident that his discussion with our students will spark a dialogue about the gun control bills now in Congress.”

Although Mitic told The Post he refuses to think of himself as an activist, the statement made through this piece is clear, if only because of the intentions of the Newtown art exhibit in which it will be held this next month.

Despite claims of anti-activism, Mitic, at the very least, believes there is power in the usage of a weapon as an artist medium, as he has shot countless bullets through his artwork many times before.

For example, he created a series of pop art pictures this year of notable figures such as John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, and outlined them with bullet holes. The series will be on display this month in Toronto.

At the end of the day, Mitic is a tranquil artist, using a weapon as a medium in order to simply create an uncomfortable paradox. He wrote a book entitled “Art or War” and speaks of his artistic intentions on his website’s biography page.

“The uneasiness with which people perceive weapons, since they were made for one purpose only (to destroy something living) puts me in an unique position—I use weapons to re-create iconic images. I carefully shoot the outline of the subject painted to generate the feeling of tranquility.”

As illustrated in the gun-control movement after the Newtown shootings, discomfort, whether through art or national tragedy, may sadly, be the only way to ignite change today.

Amid citizens’ anger about White House concert, educational purposes prevail

*Check out this video of the “Memphis Soul” concert on April 9, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Despite devastating budget cuts from the sequestration, the White House decided that their show must go on; the Obamas hosted a “Memphis Soul” concert, the 10th installation of the concert series “In Performance at the White House” on Tuesday, April 9.

While an article by Fox News cited that many Americans scoffed at the performance, angry that the exclusive star-studded show remained on schedule amid federal cuts, I have read other articles about the concert that lead me to believe this frustration is unjustified.

It seems that the event’s thoughtful purpose, private funding and student workshop (held before the concert) conflict with accusations that the first couple has become selfish, thoughtlessly spending federal funds on lavish parties while the closing the White House to the public.

The concert was an informative event that encouraged and promoted community through arts participation and appreciation; it was not a show that merely entertained the Obamas and their chosen guests.

An article by CBS quoted President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the importance of soul music:

And that was the spirit of their music — the sound of Soulsville, U.S.A., a music that, at its core, is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right … After all, this is the music that asked us to try a little tenderness …

And the Obamas’ said they hoped this Memphis Soul music event would inspire connection and respect, too. But their communal and educational intentions were not praised, or even recognized, by most citizens. Instead, many complained that federal dollars were being used for the concert.

One reader, under the name “Dry Chardonnay,” commented on the Fox News article about the concert to express frustration about U.S. spending. The commentator added that the concert was unwarranted amid a time of budget cutbacks:

When the furlough strikes in May, I will be one of the over 750,000 employees who will lose 20 [percent] of their paycheck … for goodness sakes stop throwing concerts, unless it is a fundraiser to pay down the national debt!

But according to an article posted on Red Alert Politics, the concert was funded by outside sources. “… these concerts are partially funded by private and corporate donations, [and] most of the costs are covered by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” wrote Laura Byrne, a writer for Red Alert Politics.

Additionally, the Fox News article reported that some federal employees have made several cries against the “First Couple’s” White House events because the “people’s house” was closed to the public, yet high-profile celebrities were invited to attend the concert.

Outcries also targeted the White House’s suspension of public tours to cut back on security spending, yet its doors still opened for an event that surely required a paid Secret Service security staff, according to Fox News:

Republican lawmakers ripped the administration for its decision to cancel White House tours, which affected school groups and others who had made spring plans to visit.

Jon Hart, a Republican spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was one of these critics.

Although he did not specifically comment on the concert, he did bash the Obamas for discontinuing the tours, the Washington Post reported:

They can tour the country on the taxpayer’s dime but can’t allow taxpayers to tour the White House?  Seriously?

Contrarily, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted “The History of Memphis Soul,” an interactive, educational event for 120 middle and high schoolers across the country on April 9.

The workshop encouraged budding musicians and featured music industry legends such as Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Justin Timberlake, Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper.

According to the CBS article, the First Lady offered words of support and advice to the students:

At the workshop, Mrs. Obama also tried to encourage the students, including some aspiring musicians, by noting that it took years of perfecting their talent for the artists perched on stools in front of them to get where they are.

Not to mention the Obamas invited the public to their recent Easter Egg Roll event on April 1.

While most people criticized these White House events, some did praise the Obamas for their efforts to promote education.

One Fox News reader by the name “xybann” wrote:

I am SO impressed that the first lady is going to talk to bunch of students about the history of Memphis Soul.  That is so important for young, eager minds to hear about from the most influential woman in America!

[WC: 776]

Washington, D.C. recognized as capital of contemporary art

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal featuring over 21,000 custom-programmed LED nodes, located between the National Gallery of Art's East and West Buildings, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) As seen on Forbes.

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past decade the art community in D.C. has worked hard to build its own artist reputation. This week Forbes declared D.C. as the capital of contemporary art.

Forbes recognized the ConnerSmith Gallery as a driving force that pushed the local art community into success. ConnerSmith Gallery views contemporary art as a “primary business objective” for the local community.

The gallery is owned by Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith. Click here for the full version of a Forbes interview with the art gallery owners as they discuss their business’ growth strategy and their vision for the local art community.

Yo-Yo Ma plans to save the arts

Classical musician Yo-Yo Ma delivered the Nancy Hank Lecture on Art and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center on Monday night.

Yo-Yo Ma is self described as a “venture culturalist” and made a performance out of his speech, entitled “Art for Life’s Sake,” WRTI Classic and Jazz radio reported.

Ma focused on the ideas of diversity and education, and made the claim that societies are powered by politics, economics and culture. He said that art is essential to the strength of culture and that art equips students with four necessary skills for life in the 21st century; collaboration, flexibility, imagination and innovation.

His lecture lasted an hour and a half on Monday night.

Read the full story here.

Music Man concerned about community

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Our increasingly technology-obsessed society seems to encourage individualistic tendencies — we often prefer to surf Facebook or Twitter while on our morning bus commute rather than converse with the man sitting next to us.

We could all use a little glue to pull us back together.

And that is George Whitlow’s plight.

Dubbed as D.C.’s “music man,” Whitlow can be heard from blocks away as he rides his “boombox bike” through the busy District streets near Howard University. He plays signature anthems, such as Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” or Kool & the Gang’s “Too Hot,” to encourage bonding through song, dance and laughter in the community.

An article on the Washington Post described Whitlow’s reasoning behind his mobile music machine:

His goal is to get hyper-scheduled, ambitious, uptight D.C. to get loose and listen to music — together.

Whitlow will persistently fight our “anti-social” culture, as he calls it, one day and one ride at a time.

Read the full story on the Washington Post here.